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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

If anyone is looking for a fantastic read this weekend, check out the book "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber," the story of the worst goaltender in the history of hockey/bank robber, Attila Ambrus.

Writer Julian Rubinstein discovered Ambrus' amazing story several years ago and spent three years researching the story, traveling to Hungary and Ambrus' native, Transylvania.

Ambrus fulfilled a variety of menial jobs - pelt smuggler, grave digger, Zamboni driver, church painter - and may be one of the worst goaltenders ever to lace up skates. He gave up 22 goals in one game playing for his professional Hungarian team.

But, his claim to fame was as The Whiskey Robber - a man who pulled off more than 20 bank and post office heists and pocketing millions in Hungarian money. The nickname fell because he did many of the robberies drunk on Johnnie Walker Red.

"Ballad of the Whiskey Robber" is fascinating and engaging. Rubinstein does a fantastic job of not only telling Ambrus' story, but giving context with Hungary's struggling attempts at capitalism in the mid-1990s following the collapse of communism. The people view him as a modern-day Robin Hood amid the corruption of government officials.

Then, there are the auxiliary characters, such as the police detectives tracking him. One, whose nickname is Dance Instructor, shows up for work in a top hat and tails after his moonlighting job offering ballroom dance lessons. There's the detective with the moniker, Mound of Asshead, who lives up to his name, wrecking the entire police force's garage of cruisers.

You know it's a wonderful narrative when other writers are jealous, and I'm green with envy of Rubinstein's discovery.


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